But then, the world had never cared for what he could abide.
Left to raise two younger brothers on account of a vanished mother and drunkard father, it had not cared. Ousted from the institution that had been as a home to him, derided for the nature of the work that impassioned him. Standing over the grave of his life's other love, pulling a coat closed against the winter wind.
Through it all, the world had been a hollow place, accommodating to every ill that would beset him. The stage on which tragedies played out – if there was an inherent morality in its laws, he had never seen it at work. Or perhaps it was simply skewed that far out of his favour.
Sleep had been impossible, seated against the wall in his daughter's darkened bedroom. Arms wrapped loose around his knees, interrogating his own memories in search of something he could have done to deserve it all.
Perhaps it was the world's punishment for how he had presumed to know those laws, to note and explain their immutable specifics. Something in its workings had taken offence at his hubris, confronting him with a misfortune that could not be contained in theories.
Or perhaps his initial and most comforting assumption could still hold true. That he wandered in the depths of some protracted dream, tormenting himself for the time he'd taken away from dear Andrea in order to work.
Doubts settled heavier as the hours dragged on. His dreams had always been wild, outlandish things in small cages, briefly entertained and aborted before they could come to any sense. Never had he caused himself anguish at such length, watching through unfocused eyes as dawn's golden overture began to lessen the darkness.
She had always been prone to sleeping late when unattended, burying herself beneath covers and clinging to far sweeter dreams. From where he sat, he could see the quiescent tenderness of her face, absent all of the expression with which she'd communicate her mood by daylight. The gleaming smiles and coquettish pouts, obvious in her rare dishonesty, fervent in her truth. A child's beautiful view of the world, so certain that its good and ill revolved around her existence and pleasure.
He would have made that day hers in full. Would have celebrated her return with hours in the park and all of the candy that she wished to eat, stories read long after electric light became necessary to see the pages. Anything would have been given, would have been done, but that day was not going to be anything for which he had hoped.
That was made clear when her eyes opened to greet the first distinct glimmer of the sun. Still dark through all of their depths, shot through with vague impressions of violet and starlight. Blinking once, twice in his direction, as though the mind behind them was still swimming its way out of slumber.
She was pushing the cozy layers of those blankets aside, swinging her bare feet down to meet the floor. None of the hesitation for which he had hoped, the mumbling with which she'd often implored him to let her sleep a while longer. Roused and standing straight before him, the way she had during that nightmare long hours before.
A nightmare which required no slumber to make it so. Which had become his reality, pushing himself up from the floor as though to regard that intruder from a position of power.
But nothing he could do would restore his power in that situation. Not so long as his daughter was held hostage in that way, so long as her well-being rested in the hands of such an unlikely guest. If he had to subvert his pride and placate the creature, then it would be done.
It would not, however, be his first resort. Night had brought other thoughts, dark as that which contained them.
For years, two natures had been his. As a husband and later a father, tender beneath sunlight. Before he had worked a ring onto his love's finger, however, there had been something else. Before he had cradled a daughter and felt his heart join irrevocably with hers, his love had been for the knowledge that could be wrested from the uncaring world. All that he could extract and explain about its nature, as contrary as his own.
“You haven't slept,” the intruder observed, too firm a monotone to be considered a question. A simple statement concerning the consequences of its presence.
Still he forced himself not to shout or strike, not to betray the extent of the ire that it roused. Easier when his mind and heart were insulated in such a way, packed in the numbing down of a night without rest. Perhaps it had been for the best – in that state, he had no choice but to approach the situation from one step removed.
“I worry for Andrea,” he explained instead, as matter-of-fact as the being to which he spoke. “Would it be possible for me to speak with her?” Even that, even such a glimmer of hope. Surely the beast could not deny him that.
Yet it did, answering that query with a shake of his daughter's head. “I have had host-relationships where that was possible,” it informed him in turn, as though talking of the simplest things. Things as well-known to it as the nature of light and water were to him. “At this time, however, she has no interest in such close contact with the world. It seems to me that she has long hoped for such a retreat.”
It lied. More words bit back, fists closed with new, painful tightness. There may have been grief in her recent life, but he had always worked to provide the best for which she could have hoped. In light of that, how could she have yearned for any such escape?
His throat ached to enforce that calmness of tone, working through all of the constriction that threatened to close it. “I find that difficult to believe,” was his careful response, “And would prefer to hear it from her, if it is true. Can you not disturb her for a few moments to speak with her father?”
So little time spent in the creature's presence, and already he had learned to despise that particular expression. The profound disapproval in which it held his daughter's face, a look of obstinate judgement to accompany its next words.
“If she will not have the conversation,” it stated with maddening finality, “Then I will not force her. The query posed more than once has only upset her. Why do you frighten her so?”
It was beyond all of the control he had mustered for that discussion. All but drawing blood from his own palms as he took that step forward, raising his voice to a hoarse shout between one word and the next. “I've never-” Aborted just as suddenly as it had been allowed. He may not have frightened her in the past, but if she was watching from somewhere behind her own eyes, what would she think of him in that moment? Screaming as he had, pulse pounding and heat rising to his face.
He would never have thought to look on her that way, no matter what emerged from her lips. No matter the otherworldly darkness in her eyes, the authoritative straightness of her posture. She was his, and he had tried so hard.
So hard to shield her. From the last days of her mother's illness, from the strangest of his associates in science. From the worst of his own moods, the bile and fury which accompanied failure.
“Monster,” he muttered into the concealment of a hand, hating how his own voice broke in the speaking. The power he had lost, or that he'd lacked from the beginning. “If anything is a terror here, it's you. You came out of the night, you took my-” The words would not emerge, lips working without sound in an attempt to bring them forth. Not nearly long enough since he'd felt his body seized that way, tense and suspended in a moment of emotion that it could not seem to process. Like a waterwheel halted by the sudden freezing of water.
Had he won some measure of pity from the beast? A long sigh before it spoke again, regarding him with something like softness in those impossible eyes.
“As I've hinted before,” it began, “Andrea is far from the first with whom I've had this agreement.” The same gentle tone that he had used with his daughter before, explaining why her mother would not come home or why a bird lying still in the garden wouldn't fly anymore. Ugly in that context. “I come to learn and explore, to reside for as long as we're both pleased with the arrangement. During that time, they're free to peruse my memories, and the knowledge does not leave them when I do. Once we part, most find great success in fields of learning and theorizing. Even a few months in my company could-”
His voice was overwhelming hers, a wail of which he wouldn't have thought himself capable. “A few months? 'Even' a few months?” It didn't, couldn't understand time as he did. Not stretched through the heart of a parent, each moment dilated until he could take her in his arms again. Months would be the death of him, or the death of it. A prospect that became more appealing with every passing second. “She's a child, those months are a lifetime for her! I won't accept that-”
He would not have thought it capable of interrupting him with such a small voice. Yet somehow it commanded with that delicate timbre, forcing him to silence with its conviction.
“Not a day in your presence,” it stated, “And I've already grown tired of repeating this. You are not required to accept anything. She is not yours. Her return and departure are not your decision. The sooner you take that to heart, the sooner we can establish an arrangement that will render this time beneficial to all of us.”
An arrangement? With that creature? Only one that would end with him tearing it from his daughter's body in the way that caused it greatest anguish. With his own hands, if need be, he would cast it into the darkness from which it had come.
Yet he had no means of carrying out such a conviction in that moment. So instead he brought himself into careful stillness, a neutrality of expression and tone that shattered him on the inside. “What sort of arrangement would that be?”
Was it satisfied with his seeming acceptance? Impossible to tell when it held her face in such easy impassivity. Unaffected by the conversation at hand, perhaps incapable of feeling itself torn as he was by its words.
“I would see your work,” the intruder requested, as though asking to borrow a cup of sugar at the door. “There is always something to be learned from how others have approached the universe, and I may be able to offer suggestions which would guide you in a more productive direction.”
After everything else, flaunting its intelligence over his in such a way. He would not have expected it to feel like such a final insult, yet there he was, convincing himself not to shout again. Asking only in his mind's privacy whether there was anything else the beast could take from him.
Calm. If he could convince it to enter the laboratory, that den of knowledge beneath the house's peaceful opulence, then perhaps there would still be a way. Something in his collected experience and experimental methods which would allow him to tear it from Andrea's heart.
It was the only recourse he had left. If he could be neither husband nor father, he would be that seeker of truth, the identity he had held closest and longest.
And the creature would regret leaving him with such a desperate option. The thought was strength, enough to grant him peace in tone and expression as he answered its suggestion.
“If it will satisfy you,” he agreed, “Then yes. She'll need breakfast first, but afterwards, we'll go down to the laboratory. All that I've learned and developed since leaving the university is there.”
All that he'd created without enduring the critical eye and weak stomachs of his former colleagues. Something among it would have to be sufficient, or he did not doubt that he'd go mad in the intruder's company.